By Dr. Barry Henderson
Probably one of my most interesting peripheral tasks as an FPGA design engineer is to evaluate and integrate third-party cores. This area of technology has been flourishing recently, with both Xilinx (now offering a wide range of IP cores, and up to four embedded 405 PowerPCs in a Virtex II Pro FPGA) and Altera expanding their range of IP and NIOS cores. These are but two players in an ever-expanding arena. Each vendor typically has a range of cores covering such fields as communications, networking, DSP, video and image processing, RISC, uP, and filtering.
Certainly the area of IP development is an ever-increasing one, with more advanced building blocks becoming available every day. In the title above, the term DNA could well stand for Do Not Assume…anything! This is surely true when it comes to obtaining IP cores. I am not insinuating that IP-core vendors are all rotten, but I do mean to say that you must know exactly what you want, when you want it, how much you are willing to pay for it, and how to evaluate what you get. Caution, skill, patience, and knowledge are key attributes when acquiring the right core at the right price.
Inevitably, as design cycles shrink, FPGAs and ASICs expand to 10s, 100s, and 1000s of millions of gates, and IP providers breed like overactive rabbits, the choices and magnitude of what is available will surely explode. In a nutshell, you want a high-quality core, a flexible vendor, a competitive price, and on-time delivery. This two-part series of articles expounds on my experiences to date in evaluating, verifying, and embedding IP cores. I will also attempt to establish a generic checklist of do's and don'ts.
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